A former proprietor of popular lesbian bars who now co-produces some of the city’s largest queer women’s events, Cynthia Russo’s got your Queens Pride and NYC Pride covered!
Thotyssey: Hello Cynthia thanks for chatting! The summer is nearly upon us, are you excited?
Cynthia Russo: Yes, very excited and looking forward to some warmth and a bigger social life.
Yay to that! As a major producer and nightlife host, you must’ve been out of your mind during lockdown, stuck at home.
Absolutely! We had so many things lined up that first year, that of course had to be shelved. Actually, last year on Pride weekend was our first post-Covid event!
What’s your day job, if I may ask?
I work in furniture and interior design at Bloomingdales 59th St in NYC–16 years!
You can have your own throne built, lol! Are you a native New Yorker?
I grew up in the beautiful Hudson Valley, and moved into Manhattan right after college… so I’ve been here many more years than I spent in my hometown.
Were you immediately drawn to the queer nightlife world here?
I definitely enjoyed nightlife, and music was everything to me. So way back in the day, I loved Palladium, Sound Factory and Paradise Garage just to name a few! That, however, was before I started my own career as a producer of events.
Lots of people talk about “the decline of the lesbian bar” over the past few years across the country, although NYC itself still has three going strong. What do you attribute this alleged decline to?
There are a few contributing factors, I believe. One reason — and it isn’t a bad reason — is the fact that times have changed, and a night out with visibility no longer has to be in a lesbian bar! You can now feel free to go anywhere with a date or significant other, and not face ridicule or be gawked at, etc. Our progress with equality and gay marriage has taken us to rooms where we no longer feel afraid to be demonstrative about our sexuality.
Secondly, the whole host of gender norms and new ways of identifying gender have brought a whole new aspect to nightlife! “Lesbian only” identified establishments are becoming a thing of the past, especially with the younger generation who are embracing queer, non-binary and trans [identities]. It is all good, and as far as I am concerned, everyone is welcome at my events.
But the label “lesbian” now has the connotation of not being all inclusive. I often try to make the remark in defense to that by asking people to remember that the first letter in LGBTQA+ is an L, lol… L stands for lesbian, and I am proud of that. Lesbian contributions toward strides in equality have been huge and important. Women were responsible basically for the passing of marriage equality in this country — something to never be overlooked or forgotten.
I will never stop using the word “lesbian” in promoting my events, although I do include that we have events for lesbians and for queer, trans and non-binary as well. We are in uncharted waters, lol, but still swimming upstream!
Tell us about how and when you started producing your own events.
It was the very early 1990’s and I was a bartender at three of the lesbian bars in NYC, which enabled me to acquire quite a large following. I also ran a very successful women’s bar called Pandora’s Box for three years, and when it closed I knew it was time to begin.
I decided to try to put together parties on a much larger scale than what was being offered in the bar scene; I wanted big sound systems, space for gogo dancers and entertainment. I wanted to create the atmosphere that I loved when I first started going to the clubs that I mentioned before. Women deserved more than just a bar scene!
So along came a weekly at The Octagon and a weekly at HerShe bar, both drawing about 600 to 800 hundred women each week. Those were the days!
After that I opened Krash NYC in Astoria with JR Valdes where we reigned for 11 years. Krash was men and women, and it’s a phenomenon that has never been able to be repeated! It was an amazing time in Nightlife in NYC.
Right now I do maybe two events a month at different venues, focusing on providing a safe, attractive and welcoming space for my community. I have also created a constant source of entertainment for the Latina community, and imagine that is what I am most known for. I do a very successful Latin Night once a month at a place called Katch in Astoria. I also produce probably the largest Pride event for women every year, “Re-United,” which brings over 1000-plus women together each year on Pride Sunday!
You often work with a group called LasReinas, especially for Latin Night. How did you all come together?
[LasReinas founder] Lori and I met years ago, and both of us had the same passion and commitment to bring Latin music to the Latina community. We also worked together each year on Pride events; we bonded and started working together! It’s a wonderful collaboration, and we both have different talents that we bring to the table!
We are expecting a packed house! This party is fire!
Always jammed! June gets everyone excited, lol.
And then on NYC Pride Weekend — Saturday, June 25th — you are all back at Katch Astoria for “Katch Me If You Can!” How insane is Pride gonna be this year?
I think everyone will be very successful. People are always excited about Pride, and considering what we have all been going through these past few years; we’ll be celebrating some semblance of freedom, and chances to come together as a community!
It’s a gorgeous venue, big stage, state of the art lights and sound…we are psyched!
Anything else to mention?
Our Latin Night at Katch is monthly, and we have just started a monthly Friday night at The Vegoist in Long Island City — next one is in July! We aim to keep providing fun and safe events, and hope people will spread the word and come out to support!
Yes! So finally: what is a song that you need to hear this summer to give you your entire life?
“Free,” Ultra Naté. Always for Pride!